By Mitch Broder
“The Fantasticks” seemed like a show you could count on seeing once a decade, so imagine my disappointment when it closed in its forty-second year.
|Cast photos courtesy of John Capo Public Relations.|
It has thus played for forty-seven years if you include the current run, and even if you don’t, its world record is foreseeably secure. This month, the longest-running Broadway show ever, “The Phantom of the Opera,” played its 10,000th performance. On its closing night, “The Fantasticks” played its 17,162nd performance.
“The Fantasticks” is Off-Broadway, but it’s still the longest-running musical in history. That alone, I decided, made it worth a fourth viewing. My third was on that closing night, when I had the distinction of getting out of F. Murray Abraham’s way so he could get to the stage to make a closing-night speech.
|Where the Playhouse was.|
The show’s home, which is at the Center, is the Jerry Orbach Theater. Orbach was in the original cast. The lobby, fittingly, is a Museum of “The Fantasticks” and Jerry Orbach. It has posters from Broadway shows that starred Orbach, like “Chicago,” and from “Fantasticks” productions like one that starred Liza Minnelli in Connecticut.
Everything is simple, for it is a show about simplicity, and the bonehead things everyone always does to complicate it. It’s a little love story, punctuated with tenacious burlesque humor and sprinkled with gentle, wistful songs that might be quaint but aren’t dated.
The set consists of six black poles, a bench, a chair, a box, and a trunk. The props consist of a watering can, shears, wooden sticks, and confetti. The cast consists of eight actors. The orchestra is a harp and a piano. The whole lot would fit in the chandelier at “The Phantom of the Opera.”
My moment with The Girl would be the highlight, of course, but the show continued anyway, leading off with its most famous song, “Try to Remember.” The show proceeded as I remembered it, though maybe even more leisurely paced. A couple of those comedy scenes took enough time to do them twice.
But you don’t come to this theater to see falling chandeliers or dancing animals or flying spider-men or even flying nannies. You come to see a little show that opened on May 3, 1960, and hung on long enough to pay its investors a return of 20,000 percent.
But a musical needs more than its music to be running — even with a break — since the top salary in the major leagues was $80,000. “The Fantasticks” takes you back to simpler times yet remains timeless. Unlike that salary, which, if you’re wondering, was the take-home for Willie Mays.
My fourth visit took me back, though not as far as my first three. But I blame that on the girl next to me who kept texting in her purse. She was a rude reminder of digital antisocial behavior.
She wouldn’t have got away with that at the original show.
Eisenhower wouldn’t have stood for it.Try to relax at “The Fantasticks,” at the Snapple Theater Center, 210 West 50th Street, at Broadway, in New York City.